Promoting Climate Change Activism Among Older People


Older adults are vulnerable to the effects of climate change, but they represent an enormous resource in efforts to prevent and mitigate its impact. This article summarizes the benefits and barriers associated with environmental activism by older adults. Benefits include enhancing older adults’ health, self-efficacy, and generativity, and providing volunteers for environmental organizations and communities. Barriers to widespread engagement of older adults include their lower levels of support for pro-environmental policies and less concern about climate change, and their systematic lack of access to environmental volunteer opportunities. It also outlines efforts to mobilize climate change activism targeted to elders, and addresses barriers grounded in ageism.

Key Words:

climate change, environment, activism, volunteerism

Table 1. Types of Older Adult Environmental Initiatives 






Government Initiatives  

Developed and funded by the government  

Senior Environmental Employment Program is a federal governmental program that provides an opportunity for older adults to assist the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on various federal, state, and local environmental projects. 

United States 

TAMAR Sea Turtle Conservation Program is a federal government initiative to preserve Brazil’s sea turtles in partnership with community members, including older adult fishermen employed to carry out turtle monitoring.   


Green Climate Fund is an intergovernmental fund created by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change to help developing countries fight climate change, with 150 projects in vulnerable societies and populations, including older adults. 

International (Developing countries) 

National Initiatives 

Focused on national advocacy 

Elders Climate Action is a project of the Elders Action Network, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to encourage elders to take action on social and environmental challenges like climate change.  

United States 

Sanctuary Nature Foundation’s Mud on Boots Project is a program to support on-ground conservationists in India with the goal of documenting traditional environmental knowledge held by indigenous communities and their elders.   


Grandparents for a Safe Earth is an association of older adults campaigning for environmental sustainability and disinvestment from fossil fuels. 

United Kingdom 

International Initiatives 

Focused on international advocacy 

Climate and Development Knowledge Network is an international alliance that supports climate compatible development for those most vulnerable to climate change, including by combining traditional knowledge from elders with research and technology.   

International (Africa, Asia, Latin America, Caribbean) 

The Elders is an independent group of global leaders with a Climate Change program focused on ensuring a just transition to a low carbon economy and encouraging innovative solutions to tacking climate change.   

International (Worldwide) 

Elders for Climate Justice is a group of committed to leaving a more enduring and equitable world for future generations, which is part of the ManKind Project global organization.” 

International (23 countries) 

Inter-generational Initiatives 

Comprised of intergenerational activities with elders and youth 

Green Belt Movement is a women-led indigenous nonprofit organization focused on environmental conservation with education and advocacy programs that link children and elders through community reforestation activities.   


Indigenous Climate Action is an Indigenous-led nonprofit organization that relies on the knowledge of elders to help guide its activities and mentor younger activists fighting for climate justice. 


Habitat Intergenerational Program is a volunteer program of the nonprofit Habitat Education Center in Belmont, Massachusetts that unites younger and older people in environmental service projects and stewardship activities. 

United States (Massachusetts) 

Local or Regional Initiatives 

Focused on local or regional advocacy 

Retirees in Service to the Environment is an environmental education and leadership training program for older adults that can run by any local environmental organization. 

United States 

Indigenous Guardians is project of the Indigenous Leadership Initiative to help Indigenous Nations honor the responsibility to care for lands and waters with a network of elders as the “eyes and ears” on traditional territories.   

Canada (Indigenous Nations) 

Nebraska Elder Climate Legacy Initiative is a network of older climate activists striving to leave a positive legacy for the generations to come through statewide action in Nebraska. 

United States (Nebraska) 

Citizen Science Initiatives 

Engagement of citizens in generating scientific data 

Earth Challenge 2020 is the world’s largest ever coordinated citizen science campaign to enable people around the world—including older adults—to collaboratively address the world’s most pressing environmental challenges through technology.  

International (Worldwide) 

Animal Demography Unit is a unit of the University of Cape Town that provides citizen scientists—including older adults—the opportunity to collect valuable data for science and conservation.  

South Africa 

Eyes of the Reef Hawai’i is a statewide reporting network that encourages Hawai’ian Island Ocean enthusiasts, fishers, and community members—including older adults—to assist in protecting local reefs. 

United States (Hawaii) 

Our Voice is an international initiative to empower community members to drive change in their local environments (e.g., community gardens, bike paths, trails, parks, clean-up), including projects that specifically recruit older adults as citizen scientists.    

International (15 countries)